in personal

About speech and symbols

You may have seen this pretty funny nar­ra­tion by Rus­sel Peters.

When I was think­ing about think­ing about how peo­ple lis­ten to, and com­pre­hend pho­net­ics, and how it is influ­enced by their own speech habits, one of the things I noticed was that peo­ple seem to hear the same sound, my pro­nun­ci­a­tion of my name, dif­fer­ently (with respect to how I believe I pro­nounced it). I don’t know at what step their com­pre­hen­sion of the sounds change. Because the agents involved which mat­ter, include their com­pre­hen­sion of the word, and asso­ci­a­tion with some­thing they have heard before. And sec­ondly, the only way I know what they heard, is how they say it back to me. It was most pro­nounced (as in, notice­able) when Mo heard my name, and tried to spell it, by writ­ing it on the board. I’m not sure what he wrote, but as far as I remem­ber, it was on the lines of Vasheesh. I don’t know why that hap­pened, but that’s how stuff seems to hap­pen. You know what’s most freaky about this? It’s like the colour you might be call­ing red, might be entirely dif­fer­ent from what I call red, and we won’t know until we’re nam­ing the iden­ti­cal colour in front of each other. Maybe kids should be trained to iden­tify sounds and cor­re­spond­ing symbols/phonetics too, like is done with colours.

And on that note, I come back to the thought regard­ing which I put that video in there. That African dude, in Eng­lish expressed that pro­nun­ci­a­tion (appar­ently) with an !x. But that’s no sym­bol in Eng­lish that we’re taught to com­pre­hend, right? I’m fairly cer­tain that in what­ever native script he writes his name, there exists a well defined sym­bol for that pro­nun­ci­a­tion. Which makes me think, why not such a sym­bol in Eng­lish? Or Hindi?

One what basis, did the mak­ers of the lan­guage choose this belief for what would be the con­so­nants, the basics of the pro­nun­ci­a­tion of all the words to exist, and decide that these are ade­quately many. Clearly, the hindi script with 33 con­so­nants (and not just because of the num­ber) cov­ers many more pro­nun­ci­a­tions as basic, as com­pared to the Eng­lish alpha­bet, with just 21 con­so­nants. The dude behind the Hindi alpha­bet def­i­nitely was more orga­nized and did his job with deeper thought (I’m not going to say it’s much ‘supe­rior’ to Eng­lish, because the Eng­lish alpha­bet is much more made by evo­lu­tion over ages, rather than a sin­gu­lar focussed job, which was prob­a­bly the case with San­skrit and that Panini dude (and just pre-emptively, I know he’s pri­mar­ily the gram­mar dude, but he prob­a­bly did con­tribute to the prepa­ra­tion of the alpha­bet or some­thing)), which is prob­a­bly why I did men­tion that the Hindi alpha­bet even has some worth in mem­o­riz­ing, as opposed to the Eng­lish alphabet.

But nobody I know (apart from the Africans it seems) so far has been metic­u­lous enough to include pro­nun­ci­a­tions in their lan­guage, like a click.  how badass is that. The only (escapist) rea­son­ing I can imag­ine for this, is that most pro­nun­ci­a­tions out of our nor­mal voice­box can, in effect, be expressed using the sym­bols (and in the case of Eng­lish, accent marks) that are cov­ered in the alpha­bet. And they thought that’s enough. But bleh. Losers.

You know other pro­nun­ci­a­tions which aren’t really out of the lar­ynx, and I think deserve sym­bols? The ‘tch’ sound. And the cluck (gen­er­ally used to express dis­ap­proval or dis­agree­ment). Do tell if you would like hav­ing a more fun­da­men­tal sym­bol to explain a stan­dard pro­nun­ci­a­tion you like (or don’t like) to make.

Ran­dom note: Man­darin, as far as I can tell, doesn’t seem to be made out of basic let­ters of pro­nun­ci­a­tion at all. It seems to be made of glyphs which stand for words or phrases in entirety. I won­der then, how they decided how to pro­nounce whichever sym­bol. And how they choose to build new words and choose their pro­nun­ci­a­tion. Seems kind of liv­ing on the edge, if you know what I mean. :P

  • Espèra

    Oh you just have to look at comic books where they attempt to put sounds into words to know about more sounds that can­not be spelled. How about the br-thr kinda sound when you expel air through your mouth while keep­ing your jaws closed and lips loose? If ya know what I mean.

    Also, despite Dev­na­gari cov­er­ing con­so­nants more suc­cess­fully than Eng­lish, there’s always the ‘pen’-‘pain’ thing which you can­not dif­fer­en­ti­ate between when writ­ten in Hindi. There’s only one way to write both words.
    I’ve always won­dered the same about Man­darin. There are tons of new words being invented every­day (mostly in Eng­lish O.o), how do they ever express those?! And how about words like ‘door­dar­shan’ in Hindi, how did they come up with that? Who decided it was the right word for it? It’s a rel­a­tively new inven­tion, com­pared to the inven­tion of the language.

    • http://blog.visheshk.net Mys­tic Ranger

      I’ve never noticed the pen-pain thing before! That makes eng­lish, with all its accent marks and stuff, seem­ingly have a wider base than Hindi! :O
      And it is weird when words get made up for new things – there is a San­skrit word for com­puter. Fancy that. :P But I don’t find that very upset­ting because those words are gen­er­ally made from smaller pieces, and their mod­ern com­bi­na­tion does make sense. Now that I think of it, Man­darin seems to have entire words as the basic roots for ‘spelling’, instead of indi­vid­ual let­ters. So it still prob­a­bly works in pretty much the same way. Inter­est­ing stuff, lan­guages are.

    • http://blog.visheshk.net Mys­tic Ranger

      I’ve never noticed the pen-pain thing before! That makes eng­lish, with all its accent marks and stuff, seem­ingly have a wider base than Hindi! :OAnd it is weird when words get made up for new things – there is a San­skrit word for com­puter. Fancy that. :P But I don’t find that very upset­ting because those words are gen­er­ally made from smaller pieces, and their mod­ern com­bi­na­tion does make sense. Now that I think of it, Man­darin seems to have entire words as the basic roots for ‘spelling’, instead of indi­vid­ual let­ters. So it still prob­a­bly works in pretty much the same way. Inter­est­ing stuff, lan­guages are.